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‘Turkey Day’ and an Expression of Gratitude

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 1:01am

(This commentary by Steven Grossman, deputy executive director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, originally appeared in the Alliance’s Friday Update of Nov. 21, 2014, and is reposted here with permission.)

Thanksgiving is a traditional time to focus on the good things for which we are grateful. FDA is near the top of my list. I hope it is on your list, too. On behalf of all of us, the Alliance says, “Thank you, FDA.”

In particular, our thanks extend to five areas of FDA’s mission and responsibilities:

  1. We should all be grateful for the protection that FDA provides us against unsafe food, drugs, devices, and other products. Serious problems still exist and FDA works diligently to set standards and perform the inspections that minimize consequences. More broadly, it is instructive to read FDA’s long history and realize that, without FDA, we would be faced with multiple unsafe products every day. That was the reality when FDA came into being more than a century ago.
  2. We should all be grateful for the medical products FDA reviews and approves that lessen the personal and societal burden of illness and disability. Medical products are a beneficial and broadly available part of our lives. Yet we take it for granted. When Medicare was created in 1965, there was no “drug benefit” in large part because medications were a negligible part of medical care. It has also been said that in the first half of the 20th Century, most medical visits did not produce any positive outcome — patients were no better or worse than if they had stayed home and not sought professional medical help. All of this has changed, with FDA the common element in the medical products that have changed how long we live and how well we are each day.
  3. We should all be grateful for FDA’s commitment to flexibility and innovation. There have always been critics of FDA who have accused the agency of inflexibility and resistance to change. And, perhaps, some of the time they may have been right. But that is no longer the way the agency conducts business or thinks of its commitment to the American people. Recently, some of the tussles over FSMA have demonstrated FDA’s willingness to reconsider what it has proposed. So, too, programs such as breakthrough drugs reflect the agency’s ability to reassess its processes and adopt new ones to meet emerging needs.
  4. We should all be grateful for FDA’s culture that recognizes that the job is never done — whether the focus is food safety, medical product safety, or approval of medical products. FDA staff are incredibly hard-working. People work long hours to get their jobs done. By itself, that is reason to be grateful. However, it extends beyond that to a culture that realizes that safe foods and safe and effective medical products are dynamic challenges. The value of the agency’s work is not diminished just because it can never be completed. Individuals get days off, but FDA never does.
  5. Finally, we should all be grateful for FDA’s adherence to the “rule of law” — the legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to arbitrary decisions by individual government officials. Not everyone is going to agree with every FDA decision. As a result, stakeholders meet with the agency to express their views, send letters, respond to draft regulations and guidances, submit citizen’s petitions, testify at advisory committees and so on, including occasionally suing the agency. Such differences of opinion are to be expected given the importance and complexity of the issues with which FDA must deal every day. Yet, within those many expressions of position and disagreement, you rarely hear FDA accused of either favoritism or vendetta. The rule of law is very much a part of the agency’s approach to its responsibilities.

What about FDA are you grateful for? We would welcome hearing from you. If there are particularly interesting ones, we will discuss them further in columns in December.

Raw-Milk Advocates Plan Another Effort in South Carolina Legislature

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 1:03am

The South Carolina Legislature will have only one more Republican vote next year than it had this year, but Delegate Kelli Sobonya (R-Cabell) thinks her colleagues may be more “liberty minded” in 2015. During the 2014 session, Sobonya sponsored two bills to promote raw milk sales in South Carolina, but both measures were killed in committee.

When the legislature convenes in Charleston in January, Sobonya will be back with her bills, one to permit the commercial sale of unpasteurized milk, and the other to allow raw milk to be acquired through herd shares. She won’t be alone.

Ernie Fazenbaker, owner of Windy Ridge Dairy in Independence, is looking to Sobonya and South Carolina State Sen. Daniel Hall (R-Wyoming) to push raw milk during the coming session. Hall introduced measures in the Senate that were similar to those backed by Sobonya in the House. Hall’s bills also died in committee.

Hall will chair the SC Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee come January, but he’ll need support from Sen. Ryan Ferns, who will chair the Health and Human Services Committee, if raw milk legislation is going to get a SC Senate floor vote. Hall, who will also be majority whip, predicts that Fern will give raw milk “a fair shot.”

Sobonya says that raw milk is part of “food freedom” and that all food comes “with a risk.” She points to raw oysters, sushi, rare steaks, and other foods people enjoy, but that come with a certain amount of danger.

Fazenbaker says he is only seeking to sell raw milk from his 35 dairy cows to his friends and neighbors. Some returning South Carolina lawmakers say they will oppose retail sales of raw milk in the state, but might be open to herd or cow share schemes to allow people who really want raw milk a way of obtaining it.

As in other states, the pasteurized dairy industry is expected to continue to oppose bills to liberalize raw-milk sales in South Carolina.

The GOP next year will have a 28-18 edge in the South Carolina Senate and a 78-46 margin in the House.

Consumers Urged to Go Antibiotic-Free With Their Thanksgiving Turkey

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 1:02am

Public health advocates are calling on consumers to go antibiotic-free with their traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Earlier this week, the Pew Charitable Trusts posted its three reasons to buy a Thanksgiving turkey raised without antibiotics — the main one being that consumers can influence food producers to curb the overuse of antibiotics in livestock raised for food by “voting with their wallets.”

The concern is not with antibiotic residue — something for which the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspects — but that overuse of antibiotics on farms contributes to the rise in antibiotic-resistant bugs, foodborne and otherwise.

This is not the first year such groups have made the plea. Last November, set against the backdrop of the outbreak of multi-drug resistant Salmonella Heidelberg linked to Foster Farms brand chicken that sickened 634 people, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) suggested that Americans choose USDA Organic or turkey sold under a “No Antibiotics Administered” label.

This year, healthcare professionals are also taking a stance on antibiotics used on farms. The Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society and the Sharing Antimicrobial Reports for Pediatric Stewardship (SHARPS) group created a pledge for pharmacists and physicians to “Celebrate Thanksgiving this year by purchasing (or encouraging my Thanksgiving host to purchase) a turkey raised without the routine use of antibiotics” and to educate the food service managers at their healthcare facilities about antibiotic stewardship and discuss the importance of purchasing meat raised without the routine use of antibiotics.

Over the summer, Cargill announced that it would stop using antibiotics for growth promotion in raising its turkeys. While not agreeing to go entirely antibiotic-free — the drugs will still be used for treating illnesses and for disease prevention — the company became the first major U.S. turkey producer to have a USDA Process Verified program for no antibiotics used for growth promotion.

Cargill stated that its Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms brand turkeys would be available without the growth-promoting antibiotics this Thanksgiving and that all of the company’s flocks will be raised without growth-promoting antibiotics by the end of 2015.

Some advocates, such as Steven Roach, a senior analyst with Keep Antibiotics Working, have argued that Cargill’s changes aren’t enough. He told Food Safety News this past summer that he wanted the company to show more commitment to reducing overall antibiotic use by tracking the amount used before and after the end of growth promotion.

As with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Guidance #213, which phases out the use of the drugs for certain uses, there are concerns that antibiotic use won’t decrease because it will simply be labeled as “disease prevention” in place of “growth promotion.”

Don’t Rinse Your Turkey and Other Thanksgiving Safety Tips

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 1:01am

Despite what Julia Child might have told us during the height of her authority on all things related to home cooking, we should not be washing our raw poultry — especially not in the kitchen sink.

To ensure your family enjoys Thanksgiving without any gastrointestinal interruptions, Food Safety News has compiled a guide to Thanksgiving food safety, starting with one of the most important tips of all:

Don’t rinse your turkey

Rinsing raw poultry isn’t a very effective way to clean bacteria from your meal, but it is a great way to spread bacteria around your kitchen. Washing poultry aerosolizes bacteria and splashes it around onto anything within several feet of your sink.

Let the cooking process taking care of the bacteria. Plus, from a cooking perspective, you’ll want the turkey skin dry to be crispy when cooked.

Stay smart about preparing the turkey

Never thaw a turkey at room temperature. If you’ve purchased a frozen turkey, thaw it in the refrigerator or in a pan of cold water, changing out the water as often as every half-hour. Start the thawing process at least 24 hours before you plan to start cooking.

If you bought a fresh turkey, keep it in the fridge until it’s time to cook.

If you decide to cook the turkey while it’s still frozen, you’ll need to cook it for 50 percent longer than the advised time.

Avoid cross-contamination by using a separate cutting board and knife for trimming the turkey. And be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling the turkey and before touching anything else in the kitchen.

Turkey cooking times

The bigger the bird, the longer it’ll need to cook. Here are approximate cook times for turkey in an oven at 325 degrees F:

Unstuffed

4 to 6 lb. breast …… 1.5 to 2.5 hours
6 to 8 lb. breast …… 2.5 to 3.5 hours
8 to 12 lbs. ………….. 2.75 to 3 hours
12 to 14 lbs. …………  3 to 3.75 hours
14 to 18 lbs. …………. 3.75 to 4.5 hours
18 to 20 lbs. ………… 4.25 to 4.5 hours
20 to 24 lbs. ………… 4.5 to 5 hours

Stuffed

8 to 12 lbs. …… 3 to 3.5 hours
12 to 14 lbs. …… 3.5 to 4 hours
14 to 18 lbs. …… 4 to 4.5 hours
18 to 20 lbs. …… 4.25 to 4.75 hours
20 to 24 lbs. …… 4.75 to 5.25 hours

You’ll have to check for yourself to ensure that the bird is fully cooked in this amount of time.

Turkey is safe to eat once it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature at the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

Trust a good thermometer over your eyes. Meat can appear cooked even when it hasn’t reached 165 degrees F, and it can sometimes appear pink well past that temperature.

Cook stuffing just as thoroughly

If you’re stuffing your turkey, combine the ingredients and perform the stuffing just before you plan to stick the bird in the oven. Aim for about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey.

Because it comes into contact with raw poultry, stuffing also needs to be cooked to a minimum 165 degrees F. If the turkey is done but the stuffing isn’t, remove the stuffing and bake it separately in a greased casserole dish.

Store leftovers promptly

Don’t leave dishes sitting at room temperature for more than two hours after taking them out of the oven or refrigerator. Refrigerate any foods made with perishable ingredients such as meat, milk or eggs. This includes pumpkin pie.

When storing leftovers, portion them out into shallow dishes so that they cool rapidly in the refrigerator or freezer. Cut breast meat into smaller pieces. Wings and legs can be left whole.

When thawing frozen leftovers, use the refrigerator, cold water, or the microwave, rather than leaving frozen food out on the counter.

Food safety resources

For more information about how to safely handle, serve and store your holiday food, call 1-888-SAFEFOOD (FDA), 1-888-MPHOTLINE (USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline), email mphotline.fsis@usda.gov, or visit AskKaren.gov.

For some statistics, history, and FAQs about our native bird, visit the National Turkey Federation website.

Sprout Salmonella Outbreak Up to 68 in Northeast

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 12:32am

As of November 24, a total of 68 persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Enteritidis have been reported from 10 states. The number of ill people identified in each state is as follows: Connecticut (4), Maine (3), Massachusetts (31), Montana (1), New Hampshire (4), New York (5), Ohio (1), Pennsylvania (10), Rhode Island (6), and Vermont (3). The one ill person from Montana traveled to the Eastern United States during the period when likely exposure occurred.

Illness onset dates range from September 30, 2014 to November 10, 2014. Ill persons range in age from younger than one year to 83 years, with a median age of 31 years. Fifty-six percent of ill persons are female. Among 43 persons with available information, 11 (26%) have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. are the likely source of this outbreak.

The information available to date indicates that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. may be contaminated with Salmonella and are not safe to eat. As of November 21, 2014, the firm has verbally agreed to voluntarily stop the production and sale of their bean sprouts.

Imported Smoked Salmon Recalled for Potential Listeria Contamination

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 7:39pm

Acme Smoked Fish Corporation of Brooklyn, NY, is voluntarily recalling 564 pounds of its Imported (Product of Denmark) Acme 4 oz. (113g) vacuum packs of Smoked Nova Salmon with lot code of L.05122014 because it may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

This product was distributed to Giant Food of Landover, MD, which operates supermarkets in Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.

Routine testing by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in one 4-oz. package of “Imported (Product of Denmark) Acme 4oz. Smoked Nova Salmon” with product lot code L.05122014.

No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

Consumers who have purchased 4-oz. Smoked Salmon (Acme – Product of Denmark) with lot code L.05122014 are urged to return the product to the store or discard it. Contact Acme for further details and full refunds. Consumers with questions may contact the Quality Assurance Department at Acme Smoked Fish Corporation at (718) 383-8585.

Listeria can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy persons may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

VA Firm Recalls Soybean Sprouts for Possible Listeria Contamination

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 2:00pm

Food safety specialists from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are warning people not to eat Soybean Sprouts from Henry’s Farm Inc. of Woodford, Va.

The company is recalling all packages of soybean sprouts because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections to individuals with weakened immune systems.

Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The following products are being recalled by the firm:

1.    All clear, 1-lb. packages of Natto Soybean Sprouts. These products are labeled as produced by Henry’s Farm Inc. The packages were not coded.
2.    All clear, 2-lb. packages of bean sprouts. These products are labeled as distributed by Rhee Bros. Inc. of Columbia, MD. The packages were not coded.
3.    All bulk (approximately 10-lb.) black plastic bags of soybean sprouts. These products are labeled as produced by Henry’s Farm Inc. The packages were not coded.

These items were primarily distributed to Asian specialty grocery stores in Virginia and Maryland.

The contamination was discovered after sampling by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Food Safety & Security Program. Subsequent analysis by the Virginia Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in the products. No illnesses have been reported to date.

Individuals who purchased soybean sprouts distributed by Henry’s Farm Inc. should return the product to the place of sale for a full refund.

Consumers with questions may contact the company directly at (301) 802-2996 or the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Food Safety & Security Program, at (804) 786-3520.

FDA Finalizes Menu Labeling for Restaurants, Vending Machines

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 2:06am

Calorie counts are coming to menus and vending machines near you.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced today that it has finalized its two rules requiring that calorie information be listed on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants, similar retail food establishments and vending machines with 20 or more locations.

“Strikingly, Americans eat and drink about a third of their calories away from home – often consuming less nutritious foods and also underestimating the calories that they eat,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told reporters Monday evening. No single action can fix the obesity epidemic, but the labeling is an important step “that will help consumers make smart, healthy food choices for themselves and for their families.”

Some states, localities and large restaurant chains like Panera and McDonald’s are already doing their own forms of menu labeling. “FDA’s menu labeling rules will now provide a consistent nation-wide standard that will apply to many more restaurants and food businesses,” Hamburg said.

The FDA reviewed more than 1,100 comments from stakeholders and consumers submitted on the proposed rules, released in 2011. In response, the agency narrowed the types of foods covered to focus on restaurant-type food, built in flexibility for multi-serving dishes like pizza to be labeled by the slice rather than as a whole pie, expanded coverage to include certain entertainment venues like movie theaters and amusement parks and required that certain types of alcohol have labels.

Menu labeling will not apply to independent restaurants, bars or grocery stores, nor to food trucks, ice cream trucks or the food served on airplanes and other transportation vehicles. In addition, restaurants will be allowed to offer daily specials or seasonal menu items — a Thanksgiving dinner, for example — without providing the calorie count.

To give context to calorie information, menus and menu boards will include the statement: “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.”

Consumers will also be able to request written nutrition information about total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and protein.

In the proposed rules, restaurants and similar retail food establishments would have had six months to comply and vending machine operators would have had one year to comply. In the finalized versions, they will have one year and two years, respectively.

The rules were required under the Affordable Care Act.

“Menu labeling is the biggest advance in providing nutrition information to consumers since the law that required Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods was implemented 20 years ago,” said Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “It will soon seem strange that once it was possible to go into a Chick-fil-A or a Denny’s and not see calories on menus and menu boards. We hope that small chains and independent restaurants provide the same information voluntarily.”

The National Restaurant Association President and CEO, Dawn Sweeney, said in a statement that her organization “strongly believes in the importance of providing nutrition information to consumers to empower them to make the best choices for their dietary needs” and that the association looks forward to “working with the agency as the implementation period begins and toward helping the industry adjust to the new rules.”

UK Retailer Introduces ‘Campylobacter Challenge’

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 2:03am

Major British retailer Marks & Spencer has introduced a plan to take on the poultry industry’s longstanding problems with illnesses related to Campylobacter, a foodborne bacterium that causes diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and fever.

In August, the U.K. Food Standards Agency reported that it found Campylobacter on 59 percent of fresh, whole store-bought chicken. Campylobacter is the most common form of food poisoning in the U.K., sickening roughly 280,000 people each year, and 80 percent of those cases come from poultry.

Marks & Spencer’s plan consists of five strategies that together aim to significantly reduce illnesses from poultry in the U.K.

The company says the plan consists of the following:

  • Zero thinning: Farmers that supply chicken to Marks & Spencer will no longer harvest chickens from flocks throughout the growing cycle for parts. Abstaining from culling any members of the flock is known as “zero thinning,” and is said to reduce stress levels and the amount of bacteria shed by the chickens.
  • Rapid surface chilling: Whole chicken carcasses will be rapidly chilled as they’re processed in order to reduce bacterial loads.
  • Front of pack labeling: A large label on the front of the chicken will read “Washed and Ready to Cook” to inform consumers that they do not need to wash the chicken. Washing chicken can spread bacteria and increase the chance of contamination.
  • Double-bagging: The company now wraps 85 percent of whole chickens in a double bag system that allows customers to place the chicken directly in the oven with a bag to reduce the risk of coming into contact with bacteria.
  • Farmer bonus scheme: Marks & Spencer will offer payment bonuses to farmers who produce chickens in Campylobacter-free farms.

“We take safety extremely seriously and have introduced innovative measures that ensure the highest standards and make it easy for our customers,” said Steve Rowe, executive director of food at Marks & Spencer in a press statement. “The plan is working and we are committed to playing a leading role in the efforts to reduce levels of Campylobacter in the poultry industry.”

The company says it began implementing the Campylobacter challenge in September and plans to have it established company-wide before the end of 2014.

DeLauro Urges OMB to Finalize Two Food Rules

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 2:01am

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) is urging the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to finalize two pending food safety rules.

DeLauro wrote to OMB director Shaun Donovan Monday, expressing her concern that if the mechanically tenderized beef rule and a rule regarding added solutions in meat and poultry products are not completed before the end of the year, they will be delayed until at least 2018.

There is concern that mechanically tenderized beef products are more likely to cause foodborne illness than whole cuts if not cooked properly, so food safety advocates are calling for mechanically tenderized beef to be labeled so that consumers can take extra precautions.

The concern behind the second rule DeLauro referenced is that solutions added to raw meat and poultry products to enhance flavor or texture may lead to higher sodium levels and changes to other aspects of nutritional content.

“Any delay in finalizing these important rules will deprive consumers of accurate information about these products so they can make informed purchasing decisions and prepare these products safely,” DeLauro wrote.

She noted that it has been over a year since the proposed mechanically tenderized beef rule was published and over three years since the proposed added solution rule was published.

“I urge you to publish and implement the final rules quickly so American consumers will no longer be left in the dark,” DeLauro wrote. “Thank you for considering the public health and economic impacts that will occur if USDA fails to implement these rules before the end of the year.”

No Recommendation From Stakeholders Group on Marijuana Edibles in Colorado

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 2:00am

The marijuana edibles issue is being dropped like a hot potato into the newly split Colorado Legislature after an advisory group’s mandate ran out before it could come to any kind of consensus. It will pit the state’s nearly one-year-old, cash-rich recreational marijuana industry against public health and non=profit health group Smart Colorado.

The last chance a legislatively mandated working group had to reach a consensus came last week and time ran out with many ideas, but no agreement. That group of stakeholders was created by House Bill 14-1366, which was adopted late in last year’s session just as edibles were running into some troubles.

Food infused with marijuana is the cause of two problems in Colorado. First, over- or under- dosing is a concern because it’s often difficult to combine hash oil with other ingredients and have it come out evenly distributed. Second, there are now so many products— around 300 according to Smart Colorado – that it’s not possible to distinguish the infused from the non-infused.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment made a last-ditch effort to get the stakeholders group to support a three-part approach that would include:

1. A method for identifying the product outside of the package;

2. Child-resistant packaging; and

3. The ability of the edible to be consistently produced, stored and transported in a manner that maintains the product’s integrity and protects it from foodborne pathogens

The proposal went nowhere, stopped by the group that was dominated by the marijuana industry and by a legal status now protected by the state constitution after voters made marijuana legal in any and all forms.

In its recommendation to the final stakeholders meeting, CDPHE said, “Labeling alone is insufficient to prevent unintentional poisoning, and young children often do not recognize products as dangerous from packaging alone.”

CDPHE says labeling policies need review because including normal food information like the standard nutritional panel just makes it more likely marijuana-infused products will be mixed up with regular products.

The Denver Post, the state’s largest daily newspaper, met the collapse of the stakeholders group with an editorial demanding that the Legislature do whatever it takes to make marijuana edibles distinguishable from regular foods.

“After months of futile meetings, a state task force that was supposed to make recommendations regarding the apperance of edible marijuana products has failed,” the Post editorial says. “But this effort should by no means be over. Lawmakers need to step up and act when they convene in January.”

Voters in Colorado split on legislative power this year, giving control of the Senate to the GOP and the House to the Democrats. Since passage of the voter initiative that made recreational marijuana legal, Colorado lawmakers have generally been either for it or willing to let the experiment “run its course.”

The Post wants either a stamp or a sprayed-on color that will mark marijuana edibles, be they for recreational or medical use. The editorial writers said it was disappointing the group that contained law enforcement officials, parents and industry representatives could not come to an agreement.

“The industry that has been manufacturing these products has a vested interest in keeping the status quo,” the Post said. “And critics have the difficult job of putting the cork back in the bottle.” The newspaper called up the Legislature to “scale back the anything goes edible market.” It says one manufacturer is buying familiar candies in bulk, infusing them and then repackaging them for resale.

“There is no constitutional provision that says edible marijuna must be available as granola, soda pop, or candy bars that look like what children eat without any way to distinguish the difference,” the Post said.

CDPHE had earlier recommended edibles be limited to lozenges and liquid drops, but did so without Gov. John Hickenloopers support. The Democratic governor was narrowly reelected with the financial support of the marijuana industry.

Update:   In the original version of this story Smart Colorado was depicted as a anti-marijuana group, which a spokesman insists it is not.

 

WA State Creamery Recalls Yogurt Due to Improper Pasteurization

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 3:44pm

A Washington state creamery has issued a voluntary recall of one lot of its whole milk yogurt because of faulty data recording during pasteurization.

Flying Cow Creamery of Rochester, WA, recalled the lot of its whole milk yogurt after a routine inspection by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) revealed that proper time and temperature recordings were not taken during pasteurization of the lot.

“The process of making yogurt at Flying Cow Creamery takes the milk beyond the required pasteurization time,” stated the firm in a press release. “However, during the production of Batch 70, the time and temperature recorder malfunctioned, leaving no record that the yogurt was properly pasteurized.”

The firm has contacted all of the establishments that bought the product to notify them of the recall.

Affected products are marketed with a best-before date of 12/3. The batch number (70) and best-before date are located on the top of the container, which is a 32-oz. glass jar with a white lid.

The yogurt was sold to retail locations in Rochester, Olympia, Seattle, Chehalis, Federal Way and Tacoma.

Improper pasteurization leaves a risk that dangerous bacteria such as Listeria or Campylobacter will survive in a dairy product.

No illnesses have been connected to consumption of the recalled product.

Chicken ‘Juice’ Helps Campylobacter Thrive in Kitchens, Study Finds

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 2:04am

The liquid that comes off of a defrosting chicken provides a safe harbor for Campylobacter, according to a new study.

Chicken “juice” from a defrosted bird turns a surface into a protein-rich environment in which Campylobacter can form a protective biofilm, reported a study from the Institute of Food Research. This biofilm helps bacteria attach to things and survive tough conditions.

The researchers used strains of Campylobacter jejuni, the form of the bacteria that causes 90 percent of Campylobacter foodborne illness infections, for the study.

While all Campylobacter usually has trouble living outside its natural environment, a chicken’s gut, chicken juice turns a formerly unfriendly surface into one that attracts Camplyobacter biofilm, found the researchers.

“This film…makes it much easier for the Campylobacter bacteria to attach to the surface, and it provides them with an additional rich food source,” said Helen Brown, a PhD student at IFR, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Brown’s studentship is co-funded by Campden BRI, in a statement.

While other types of molecules from animals, such as bovine serum proteins or milk, either slow or inhibit biofilm formation, the liquid expelled by chicken enhances it, according to the paper.

“This study highlights the importance of thorough cleaning of food preparation surfaces to limit the potential of bacteria to form biofilms,” said Brown.

Researchers designed the experiment to imitate conditions in an industrial kitchen, putting chicken juice on stainless steel surfaces.

While the presence of chicken broth increased Campylobacter attachment and growth, the concentration of chicken broth didn’t make a difference. More concentrated broth did not help Campylobacter biofilm to attach and grow.

Chicken broth also evened the playing field for different strains of Campylobacter. Strains that have no flagella, or tail, usually attach to surfaces and form biofilms more easily, but chicken broth made it easier for strains without flagella to attach to surfaces too, according to the study.

The researchers said their findings point to a need for more research on animal juices and bacteria.

“This highlights the need for future studies to not only investigate the link between chicken or pork soil and surface conditioning but also assess the effect of other meat exudates on biofilm formation,” reads the paper’s conclusion.

The study was published ahead of print Sept. 5 in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

FDA Warning Letters: Drug Residues Top List of Problems at Food Firms

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 2:03am

Illegal drug residues in dairy cows slaughtered for meat were the main problem cited in recent warning letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to firms found in violation of regulations stipulated by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Letters to four dairy producers warned that illegal levels of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs had been found in the muscles and edible tissues of cows sold by the companies for slaughter. Other problems identified in recently posted warning letters included improper handling of acidified foods, improper handling of low-acid canned foods, unsanitary production conditions and misbranding of infant formula.

The firms whose product contained illegal levels of drugs included El-Vi Farms, LLC and Reuben R. Zimmerman, both of New York, Kelly Hills Dairy Inc. of Kansas and Noel D. Elmore of Kentucky.

FDA wrote to El-Vi Farms of Newark, NY, notifying the firm that samples of uncooked edible kidney tissue from a cow it sold for slaughter as food contained 4.16 parts per million (ppm) of ceftiofur, an animal antibiotic. This level was more than ten times the acceptable limit of .4 parts per million for this drug in edible kidneys.

The agency also found that E-Vi was administering ceftifur to animals in doses not authorized by the drug label and that it was not keeping proper treatment records for its animals.

Reuben R. Zimmerman, owner of his company bearing the same name, was warned that a cow sold for slaughter from his dairy facility contained .63 ppm of penicillin in its edible kidney tissue (the acceptable limit is .05 ppm), 1.3 ppm of the anti-inflammatory flunixin in its liver tissue, where the limit of the drug is .125 ppm, and .0293 ppm of flunixin in the muscle tissue, which can’t contain more than .025 ppm.

The Zimmerman facility was also found to be administering penicillin in doses not approved by its labeling and not keeping proper medical treatment records for its animals.

In its letter to Kelly Hills Dairy, Inc. of Seneca, KS, FDA notified the company that penicillin residues of .515 ppm in uncooked edible tissues of a dairy cow sold for slaughter.

FDA wrote to Noel Elmore Farms of Glasgow, KY, that said the company had sold a dairy cow for slaughter for use as food whose tissue samples contained levels of penicillin at .215 ppm in its kidney (the legal limit is .05 ppm).

The FDA investigation also found that on July 5, 2011, the company wrote a letter certifying that it was not marketing livestock with illegal drug residues. That letter covered the dairy cow whose tissue was later found to contain illegal levels of penicillin.

FDA also told all companies whose dairy cows contained illegal drug levels that they were using doses of drugs beyond what has been approved by their labels.

“Our investigation also found that you hold animals under conditions that are so inadequate that medicated animals bearing potentially harmful drug residues are likely to enter the food supply,” said the agency to each of the firms.

FDA also wrote letters to other firms citing other food safety violations.

KIZ Foods Limited of Bhavnagar, India received a letter notifying it that it was not following regulations for the production of acidified foods.

Specifically, the company did not provide required records of its heat processing and control of pH, salt, sugar and preservative levels for its garlic past, ginger paste and ginger garlic paste to FDA. The firm also didn’t have personnel who have been certified in activities involving acidification, pH control, heat treatment and critical factors, another requirement.

FDA also found that KIZ did not conduct required pH testing, did not examine containers to make sure they are protected from contamination or leakage, did not mark product with a code identifying where and when it was produced, did not maintain equipment in a manner that will prevent it from contamination, did not clean food contact surfaces frequently enough and did not provide adequate hand washing facilities or hand drying stations for employees. Further, the firm did not take adequate steps to prevent pests from entering the facility and had not constructed its facility in a manner that allows for proper cleaning. 

FDA wrote to Vella Cheese Company of Sonoma, CA, telling the company it had not followed proper production requirements for low-acid foods. Specifically, the company had not registered with FDA as a commercial processor of low-acid foods, had not notified FDA of its processing methods, including sterilization procedures and temperature controls.

“Scheduled processes must be established by qualified persons having expert knowledge acquired through appropriate training and experience in the thermal processing of low-acid foods in hermetically sealed containers,” wrote FDA in its letter.

Finally, FDA wrote to Nestle Infant Nutrition informing the company its Gerber Good Start Gentle Infant Formula is misbranded because it made health claims not authorized by FDA. The product’s label claimed it helped “reduce risk of developing allergies” and that the 100% whey partially hydrolyzed it contains may reduce the risk of atopic dermatitis, statements that were not authorized by FDA.

They agency said Nestle Infant Nutrition already submitted a petition requesting to assert a link between the whey product and a reduced risk of allergy in infants because there was not sufficient scientific evidence to support the claim. The agency also said there is no evidence linking the specific whey product in the formula to reduced risk of atopic dermatitis, only linking whey-protein to the condition.

FDA said the packaging failed to include the required statement, in bold type: “should not be fed to infants who are allergic to milk or to infants with existing milk allergy symptoms.”

All companies who received these recent warning letters were asked to respond to the letter within 15 working days outlining steps they will take to correct these violations. 

Judge Signs Forfeiture Order Against DeCoster’s Quality Egg, LLC

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 2:00am

His company’s guilty plea for bribing a USDA egg inspector is costing Austin (Jack) DeCoster’s Quality Egg,LLC an extra $10,000.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett has signed a preliminary order of forfeiture ordering Quality Egg, LLC to pay $10,000 “representing proceeds derived from the illegal activity committed by the defendant.”

Quality Egg, LLC in June pleaded guilty to one count of bribing a federal official, a felony and the two misdemeanors for selling both misbranded and adulterated eggs. It was part of the plea bargain that included both Jack and son Peter DeCoster each also pleading guilty to single misdemeanors.

Both men and Quality Egg, LLC are scheduled to be sentenced in February. Quality Egg is expected to pay a $6.8 million fine, and the plea agreement has each of the DeCosters paying individual fines of $100,000 each.

Bennett signed the $10,000 cash forfeiture order on Nov. 18, the same day it was requested by the U.S. Attorney for Northern Iowa. A preliminary order of forfeiture becomes final at sentencing.

The defendants will be sentenced after an evidentiary hearing that will begin on Feb. 9, 2015. Sentencing has become tangled in a dispute over whether it can include any jail time for the two men. They’ve pleaded guilty under a so-called “strict liability” misdemeanor. Their attorneys argue it would be unconstitutional to jail corporation officials for merely taking responsibility for a company’s bad acts when they have no actual knowledge or intent concerning it.

The case against Quality Egg, LLC and the DeCosters was filed after a federal investigation into the 2010 Salmonella outbreak that was traced to two Iowa egg farms they owned. During that event they recalled over one-half million shell eggs, the largest such recall in U.S. history.

1,200 Pounds of Ground Beef Recalled Due to E. coli Risk

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 5:00am

Ranchers Legacy Meat Co., of Vadnais Heights, Minn., is recalling 1,200 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

Products subject to the recall are packaged in plastic cryovac sealed packets, and contain various weights of ground beef.  All products produced on Nov. 19, 2014 are subject to recall.

All of the following have a Package Code (use by) 12/10/2014 and bear the establishment number “Est. 40264” inside the USDA mark of inspection. Individual products include:

  • Ranchers Legacy Ground Beef Patties 77/23
  • Ranchers Legacy Ground Chuck Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy USDA Choice Ground Beef 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy USDA Choice WD Beef Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy RD Beef Patties 80/20
  • OTG Manufacturing Chuck/Brisket RD Patties
  • Ranchers Legacy Chuck Blend Oval Beef Patties
  • Ranchers Legacy WD Chuck Blend Patties
  • Ranchers Legacy USDA Choice NAT Beef Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy NAT Beef Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy USDA Choice NAT Beef Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy Ground Chuck Blend
  • Ranchers Legacy Chuck Blend Bulk Pack NAT Patties
  • Ranchers Legacy Chuck Blend NAT Beef Patties

The product was discovered by FSIS inspection personnel during a routine inspection. Products testing positive on November 21, 2014 were held at the establishment.  The products being recalled were produced on the same day and equipment as the positive product.  Products were shipped to distributors for sales nationwide.

E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause dehydration, bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps for 2 to 8 days (3 to 4 days, on average) after exposure the organism. While most people recover within a week, some develop a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This condition can occur among persons of any age but is most common in children under 5-years old and older adults. It is marked by easy bruising, pallor, and decreased urine output. Persons who experience these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately.

FSIS and the company are concerned that some product may be frozen and in consumers’ freezers. FSIS and the company have received no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of these products. However, due to the time required to trace an illness back to a food source, it is impossible to say if anyone has been sickened.

Letter From the Editor: Happy Thanksgiving!

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 2:00am

On Thursday, millions of Americans will sit down with family and friends, likely over a large turkey, for the most practiced meal of the year. Our familiarity with it, and the way we pass down the instructions for its preparation, is perhaps what gives the day its generally good food safety record.

The biggest food safety hurdle for this gathering is passed by following the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) advice: get a fresh turkey into the oven within two days and to keep it there for five and one-half hours at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for the typical 20 to 24-pound stuffed turkey. When the preparation time and the cooking time is added up, it still leaves all the time demanded by the National Football League (NFL) or other alternative activities of your choice.

People who, during all the other days of the year, are doing millions of different things, on Thanksgiving do almost exactly the same things. USDA’s National Economic Statistic Service reports that for 2014, Americans will consume 51 million turkeys on Thursday at a cost of about $1.15 per pound. It estimates that everyone eats about one and one-half pounds of turkey once the days of leftovers are included. Given the number of traditional side dishes, most households have an easy time preparing some to accommodate their vegan and vegetarian friends and family—about 5 percent of the U.S. population or about 16 million people, according to the Harris Interactive study.

Anyone who wants to pick up the tab for everybody on Thanksgiving should leave $2.375 billion on the table, plus tip, of course. It works out to something like $54.18 per household.

This will be the 151st Thanksgiving celebrated by Americans since President Abraham Lincoln first proclaimed the holiday in 1863. The day before that first official Thanksgiving, the Union Army attacked the Confederate Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Missionary Ridge, at Chattanooga.  Since then, Thanksgiving has become a marker for how much U.S. history has been packed between its observation and the rapidly approaching the end of the year. That year-end feeling of complacency we develop on Thanksgiving Day preceded Pearl Harbor, The Chosin Reservoir, and the Battle of the Bulge.

So enjoy the family and friends. Eat safe. Have a Happy Thanksgiving. We’ll have a couple normal days around here before we slack off like the rest of you.  But we won’t become too complacent and neither should you.

Publisher’s Platform: One, Two, Three Sprouts, You’re Out

Sat, 11/22/2014 - 1:47pm

Three sprout outbreaks (Sproutbreak – Sproutpocalypse – Sproutageddon – Sproutataclysm – Sproutastrophe) caused by Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria outbreaks since August?  One has been deadly and all have sent dozens to the hospital.

As of yesterday, the CDC has reported a total of 63 persons infected with Salmonella Enteritidis from 10 states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The one ill person from Montana traveled to the Eastern United States during the period when likely exposure occurred. Twenty-six percent of ill persons have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. are the likely source of this outbreak.

As of November 13, 2014, Whole genome sequences of the Listeria strains isolated from mung bean sprouts produced by Wholesome Soy Products, Inc. and environmental isolates collected at the production facility were found to be highly related to sequences of Listeria strains isolated from five people who became ill from June through August 2014. These five ill people were reported from two states: Illinois (4) and Michigan (1).  All ill people were hospitalized. Two deaths were reported.

On August 28, 2014, Wholesome Soy Products, Inc. conducted a voluntary recall of mung bean sprouts due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination after FDA isolated the pathogen from samples as a result of a routine assignment.

As of August 1, 2014, a total of 19 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O121 (STEC O121) were reported from six states. The number of ill persons identified in each state was as follows: California (1), Idaho (3), Michigan (1), Montana (2), Utah (1), and Washington (11). 44% of ill persons were hospitalized. No ill persons developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), and no deaths were reported.

Epidemiology and traceback investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials indicated that contaminated raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, LLC of Idaho was the likely source of this outbreak.

Barf Blog (yes, there is such a blog) documents at least 55 sprout-associated outbreaks occurring worldwide affecting a total of 15,233 people since 1988.  Looks like that chart needs some updating.

As far back as September 1998, FDA issued a warning against sprouts:

Children, pregnant women and the elderly should not eat alfalfa sprouts until growers find a way to reduce the risk of a potentially deadly bacteria that infects some sprouts, the Food and Drug Administration said this week. The FDA, which is investigating sprout industry practices, said children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts.

Here is the CDC warning :

Sprouts Not Healthy Food for Everyone

Children, the elderly, and persons whose immune systems are not functioning well should not eat raw sprouts, because current treatments of seeds and sprouts cannot get rid of all bacteria present.

Persons who are at high risk for complications from foodborne illness should probably not eat raw sprouts, according to an article in the current issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, CDC’s peer-reviewed journal, which tracks new and reemerging infectious diseases worldwide.

Although sprouts are often considered a “health food,” the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.

Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting. Until an effective way is found to prevent illness from sprouts, they should be eaten with caution, if at all.

So, other than continuing to count outbreaks, what is the solution to the sprout problem?

Vilsack: No Regulatory Fix for COOL

Sat, 11/22/2014 - 2:00am

Last weekend, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told the 2014 National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) convention that there is no regulatory fix for country-of-origin labeling (COOL).

After the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) ruling in favor of Canada and Mexico in an ongoing dispute with the U.S. over COOL, a team at the Department of Agriculture studied the issue and found that there is no regulatory fix that would be consistent with U.S. law as it exists and also satisfy the WTO.

“One of two things needs to happen,” Vilsack said at the NAFB convention. “Either our Canadian and Mexican friends need to tell us more clearly and more specifically what, if any, variation of this will work for them, or Congress has to give us different directions that would allow us to comport with the WTO ruling to prevent whatever potential retaliation may occur.”

The latest U.S. labeling rules, put into effect in 2013, require meat sold in grocery stores to indicate the country, or countries, where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered.

According to the WTO report released in October, the labeling rules unfairly discriminate against meat imports and give the advantage to domestic meat products. This was the second time the WTO has ruled against the U.S. in this dispute. After passing mandatory COOL rules in 2008, the U.S. amended COOL in 2012 following an earlier WTO ruling against it.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) will decide whether to appeal the latest ruling and Vilsack has previously said that an appeal would not be filed until January 2015.

Ongoing Multistate Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Sprouts

Sat, 11/22/2014 - 1:11am

At least 63 people  in 10 states have been sickened in a multistate Salmonella outbreak linked to bean sprouts, reported the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Friday.

Bean sprouts distributed by Wonton Foods, Inc. of Brooklyn, NY have been linked to an outbreak of Salmonella Enteriitdis that has sickened people in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. An estimated 26 percent of victims have been hospitalized, according to CDC’s outbreak report.

The company said in a verbal statement that it was recalling the bean sprouts thought to be tied to the outbreak, according to the CDC outbreak report. The one illness in a person from Montana was likely contracted during a visit to the East Coast.

The first illnesses began September 30, 2014 and the latest reported illness onset to date was November 8, 2014, said CDC. Among 42 persons with available information, 11 (26%) have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.

Of the 37 people interviewed by health officials, 29, or 78 percent, reported eating bean sprouts in the week before they fell ill.

Among those interviewed, “Wonton Foods, Inc. was the only supplier common to all of the restaurants and was the sole supplier of bean sprouts to at least two of the restaurants,” reported CDC.

The firm said its last bean sprout shipment was Nov. 18. On Nov. 21 after being notified of the outbreak, the firm stopped production and sale of its bean sprouts and is taking steps to prevent further Salmonella contamination.